Day 13: Mount Evans, CO

After working my way up in altitude (10K a couple times, 12K on Trail Ridge Rd) – time for one of the 14ers, Mt Evans, the highest paved road in the US at around 14,200 feet.

This is also a pretty tough climb, even without the altitude – it is long (27 miles) and a solid 6700 feet of ascent, at my “easy” pace of roughly 2000 feet per hour, that’s 3.5 hours of continuous climbing. Definitely the most difficult climb of this trip.

The weather report the night before was a bit dodgy – calling for 40% chance of rain and up to a quarter inch of precipitation. I had already decided I was going for it and if it got ugly, turn around.  Mountain weather is very unpredictable.

I “slept in” until 5, checked the forecast, and things had improved – now calling for mostly clear conditions until the afternoon. The downside of the clearing conditions was the summit was forecast to be 35 degrees.

Headed out – the first half of the climb is on a highway, big shoulders and sweeping turns (and more “MOTORCYLCES USE EXTREME CAUTION” signs.. since I wasn’t on my motorcycle, I guess I didn’t need to use caution.)

The usual tree/valley drag around 8500 feet
At the turn off to Mt Evans road is Echo lake, you can tell at this time there was no wind!
Around 11K, you break above the trees and it’s the now familiar arctic tundra
Echo lake from above

After turning right at Echo Lake, you take a much narrower and bumpier road for another 14 miles that gets narrower and bumpier as you go along – there tend to be large expansion cracks every 30 or 40 feet.. ker-thunk ker-thunk ker-thunk the whole way up. I saw a single lone deer along this stretch, and lots of the arctic tundra marmots, that sort of look like fat prairie dogs with bushy tails.

Around 13K, the weather started getting a bit more ominous, but never actually rained.. but those wet clouds are colllllld.

No guard rails here!
Summit lake to the right, around 13K altitude

The last 1000 feet of ascent was.. pretty rough. Having roughly 40% less oxygen is definitely something you notice, but luckily I didn’t seem to have any other altitude sickness issues, not even the vague nausea I had felt a few times before.  But you definitely feel.. odd.  Even just grabbing a water bottle would leave me breathing extra hard.

You know you’re up pretty high when you have to aim down to take pictures of mountains in the background

Last set of stacked switchbacks that take you to the summit
Finally, success!

Without nerd
With a very cold nerd
Shorter version of this sign: Don’t die. K THX
Elevation 14,117, earlier this year I was negative 220 in Death Valley!

By now the wind and clouds had picked up, so I knew the descent was going to be chilly. I didn’t bring any legitimate winter thermal clothes – just some toe covers, wind jacket and my buff (neck/face gaitor) to keep my face from getting frozen.

I settled for riding until I couldn’t feel my fingers, then I would stop for a bit and let them thaw out. That was okay since the expansion gaps were even more punishing on the way down – KERTHUNK KERTHUNK KERTHUNK!

The wind had also picked up a bit, and I sure wasn’t going to ride right on the edge of the road. Once down to the highway, things were easier, it’s just a long long way down!

This was the first climb on this trip I’d say was challenging for climb difficulty reasons vs. cows or wind or whatever. The cold also seemed to really suck the life outta me.

Pike’s Peak is even more difficult – it is another 1300 feet of ascent, and 4 miles shorter (so steeper average grade.)  That’s definitely the “queen stage” of this trip, so I’m going to take the weekend off and plan to ride it on Monday.

Day 11: Big Thompson Canyon JRA, Colorado

Juggling my schedule around the weather, I decided to spend another day in Estes Park. I had dreams of tackling the old dirt road that was replaced by Trail Ridge, but I woke up late, it was raining, and was probably even harder than doing the paved road, much less doing it in the mud.

Plus then I’d probably have to wash my bike, and I hate washing bikes.

The light, but steady rain meant I wasn’t tackling any high passes, so I decided to go down Hwy 34 aka Big Thompson canyon, a relatively sedate 44 miles and 2600 feet of ascent.

Traffic was moderate but generally the shoulder was sufficient to leave room for cars, and nothing very technical or challenging even with the wet roads.

Down through the canyon
Big Thompson river makes Big Thompson canyon
Thanks!
Little dam appropriately named Little Dam
After popping out of the canyon, turn around and head back up

Since I was Just Riding Along, I headed to a shopping center and a sign told me I needed pie, so I stopped for breakfast.

Headed back to the hotel and hit up a local bicycle/coffee place, they have TWO Slayer espresso machines, and I hadn’t had a good coffee in 2 weeks.

Via Bicycle Cafe

Rolled back to the hotel, still pretty wet and rainy.

Will spend the rest of the day doing laundry and getting organized for the next two big climbs.

Current plan is Idaho Falls tomorrow and ride Mt Evans on Friday (Saturday is the official Mt Evans Hill Climb race, so I expect Idaho Falls will be filled with cyclists.)

Day 10: Trail Ridge Parkway, Colorado

I chose this climb because it would put me at a new altitude record for bicycling – approximately 12,400 feet above sea level. It also crosses over the continental divide, which is pretty neat.

Mt Evans and Pikes’ Peak are both around 14,000. So if things went poorly on Trail Ridge, I knew I should not attempt those (or attempting my white whale – the full Mauna Kea in Hawaii.)

Technically you can start this climb down in the actual valley, and turn it into a 7500+ foot ascent, but since this was supposed to be a warm up ride for Evans/Pikes, I opted to leave from Estes Park, which has the added bonus of a breakfast place I can park at, so I can eat pancakes when I’m done riding.

I was obviously not on my game this morning, since it took me until 6 AM to get kitted up in the parking lot.  Then I forgot to start my bike computer.  Then I got .8 miles in and realized I left my camelbak hanging on my motorcycle.

So on my 3rd attempt of starting the climb, I headed up.

Trees, trees.. more trees
One of many dire warning signs

The first 2000+ feet are pretty much.. tree tunnels. Not much to be seen except the epic huge mountains in the background, and increasingly dire warnings about changing conditions. I was pretty much surrounded by dark clouds, and you could see lots of puddles from the previous day’s precipitation.  I REALLY didn’t want to do the descent in the rain.

Looking back the way I came
Trees starting to clear out around 10K

Around 11,000 feet.. you hit some gaps in the mountain, turns out, this is the divide.  Apparently the west and the east weather systems are fighting it out, because the wind turned REAL gusty.

WIFE: STOP READING HERE

Alright, if you’re not my wife who worries about me – it was probably 40+ mph gusts for about 10 minutes. One picked me up and moved me a good 8 feet to the left – luckily to the side where there was mountain and not cliff.

I definitely was having second thoughts and considered turning around (since there was still another 30 or 40 minutes of climbing.)

Luckily by the time I was done waffling, some trees sprang up again to block the wind, and it wasn’t bad the rest of the way up.  I suspect it’s just that continental divide thing.

Once you get up past 11,000 or so, it turns into the now familiar arctic tundra.

Deer

There was actually another deer RIGHT on the shoulder, giving me the eyeball.. once again, no picture as I tried to figure out how to get past an animal larger than my motorcycle. Then I noticed it was chewing on a candy bar wrapper, so I figured it was distracted by whatever delicious treat an idiot tourist gave it.  TOURISTS:  WILD ANIMALS WILL KILL YOU, DO NOT FEED THEM.  So dumb.

I continued over the summit (no sign?!?!) and down a bit of descent to a turnout area, there’s a paved trail that leads up a bit from here, so I decided to go up it – here I finally got to use my granny gear, as it was 15%+ in spots.  Also a good test at 12,000 feet if I could power through something like that.

Looking down the path near the summit

Generally I felt ok, slightly nauseated again – but hard to tell if that is altitude or just too many Pop Tarts and Lifesaver gummies. No dizziness or vertigo or anything like that.

My heart rate behaved much better – barely creeping up around 80% once I got over 10,000 feet, lowering my cadence seems to help significantly.

Alright, now the descent.. if my wife is still reading this she should stop again.

While I was dawdling at the summit, the weather degraded, it was now 25+mph pretty continuously, and the divide section was.. not good.

The only good part was that traffic going down was still quite light, while going up there was a steady stream of cars throwing off turbulance.  But at least I could claim the whole lane – which was good, because I needed it – between the wind changing directions as I rounded switchbacks, and then the extra 40+ mph gusts coming through the divide, I was all over the road.

Thankfully it had not started to rain yet. After that andrenaline and white knuckle first 2000 feet, I pulled over and took a breather before tackling the rest.

Still a lot of road to descend

The rest of the descent was also no fun, but not as scary, just very unpleasant.  I meant to stop a few places and take more pictures – then another gust would pick me up and I’d change my mind.

I coasted into the breakfast place and got my victory pancakes, relatively confident I can attempt Evans and Pike’s Peak without immediate altitude sickness, assuming I can find an acceptable weather window.

Day 8: Granite Pass, Big Horn National Forest

3rd climb in 3 days, pretty tired. Also, mosquito bites.. a lot of mosquito bites. Wyoming mosquitos are hungry hungry hungry. I stopped counting after 30 red bite marks, I am not looking forward to the next few days of itching.

Granite Pass is the other side of Hwy 14A, creatively named Hwy 14, it is not particularly steep, but makes up for it in scenery.

I got out around 5ish, motorcycled 15 miles to the tiny town of Shell, I decided to park “in town” in a pitiful attempt to avoid the voracious roadside mosquitos I encountered on the other side of the park, but it meant an extra 10 miles of valley road.

Nearing the end of the valley drag

Once you make the turn into the canyon, the views get very impressive. Definitely the highlight of the trip so far, scenery-wise.

Lots of interesting rock formations
Looking down on one of the switchbacks
Looking back the way I came up

The canyon section is all 5-8% grades, nothing too crazy but reasonably challenging with my tired legs.

The next phase of the climb takes you up through the woods, along Shell creek.

Unfortunately, after this it is another 8 miles of 3-4% grade, that goes on forever. With the added bonus that the wind died, which meant, more mosquitos.

This.. forever.

After grinding away and being gnawed on for another 45 minutes, you reach the summit after another annoying false flat.

Just a lonely sign post
This is looking down the other side.. which looks exactly like this side

Because of the gradual grades, the descent takes a long, long time.  Probably over 45 minutes. The plateau section was so boring I felt myself zoning out, which is never a good idea when traveling a 35 mph in spandex.

The way up had very little traffic, but the way down started getting a few tourists and tour buses, so I pulled over a few times to get a gap – riding your brakes down a steep mountain is a good way to not have brakes.

A sign said this granite was 2.5 million years old
Final bends before exiting the canyon

I reached the valley floor, and it was already 90 degrees at 10:30 AM. This weather is ridiculous. Quickly loaded up and headed back to the hotel.

Tomorrow is a long motorcycle leg – nearly 500 miles to Estes Park Colorado, where the weather is calling for measurable rain and thunderstorms pretty much every day except Tuesday.  So I may be tackling Trail Ridge sooner than I planned, hopefully my legs recover enough to tackle its 12,000 foot summit.

Day 7: HWY 14A to Big Horn National Forest

2 rides in 2 days? That’s crazy talk!

Hwy 14A (“Alternate”) is a challenging and remote climb that is inconveniently located, you can’t really ride to it easily, there’s no nearby hotel, etc.

Due to the weather situation, it was on the list to be cut unless I was feeling good after climbing the Beartooth, as noted, the Beartooth was a pretty gradual climb, so when I woke up this morning I decided to go for it:

Load up, motorcycle 1.5 hours to the base of the climb, ride up mountain, motorcycle another 45 minutes to Greybull, WY.

I woke up at 4 AM (ouch), loaded everything up and headed to the base of the climb in the valley.

First surprise:  It takes me 30 minutes to swap from motorcycle to bicycle. Which is apparently roughly the amount of time for the entire state of Wyoming’s mosquito population to find me. I was frantically swatting, assembling, and wiping on insect repellent. I’ll know tomorrow how badly I was mauled.

Here’s my standard “where I abandoned my motorcycle” picture, which I suppose might also be useful for insurance purposes.

Once again the climb starts with a few miles of 2-4% grades, and then kicks up to 5 or 6%.

Then you go around a corner and see what you’re facing.

Remember how I said more switchbacks mean more gradual grades? This climb only has a couple, so lonnng 10% sections

From here on out, it’s pretty much 10% with a few false flats thrown in.

Interestingly, I STILL haven’t needed to use my granny gear.. although admittedly 30-36 is my next lowest gear and I used that the whole time.

Looking back down in the valley
Out over Wyoming

I went around another switchback, and encountered a bunch of cowboys on horses.. and.. cows.  I assumed they were moving them across the road to another field or something.

Once they moved out of the way, I resumed my ascent.

Getting up there

This another summit where there’s a slight downhill and then the final 2 mile up hill, which is very annoying.

The top part pretty much meanders through the Big Horn National Forest, and is very green, cooler, and full of mosquitos that would find me every time the wind died.

Full of bugs!

After getting to the REAL summit, I enjoyed the warning sign about the descent – I guess Wyoming wants you to take it seriously!

This is definitely a bit sketchy – it is easy to hit 50+ mph on roads this steep, even sitting up and trying to catch as much wind as possible.

And, unfortunately a few minutes into the descent, I encountered this scene.

Turns out, those cowboys were actually moving their herd of cattle from the valley, to the upper pastures. Up the crazy road I just pedaled up!

There was, literally, no where to go.. so me and a few cars just sat on the side of the road waiting for the cowboys to figure out how to herd the cows past us.

Mostly I just hoped none of the cows would hit me.

After 100s of cows mooed their way past, I resumed the descent, now with the added excitement of 100s of piles of cow excrement and cow pee (and when a cow pees, it’s a lot of pee!)

Hitting a fresh cow pie at 50 mph is a recipe for something really really bad, so it was a bit like an unpleasant video game: try not to melt your brakes and try not to hit cow pies.

I made it down to mosquito land and gave up on the idea of changing out of my bike clothes before heading to the hotel – taking off any garments seemed exceedingly unwise given the swarming bugs.

I loaded up in a frenzy of swatting and stopped in Lovell for a gatorade and a snack and headed to Greybull, WY another 45 minutes away.

Here’s the mayor of Greybull, who also owns the Greybull Hotel (built in 1914) checking me in while sitting in the bank vault from the original building owner.

Assuming I continue to feel good, it’s another short motorcycle jaunt to the base of Granite Pass on the other side of the Big Horn National Forest. 3 climbs in 3 days is ambitious, but the weather down in Colorado is looking kind of dodgy, so I’m expecting a few rest days scattered in there.
Hopefully the mosquitos are not as fierce tomorrow!

Day 3: The Full Mount Harrison

Finally, time to bicycle! I chose Mount Harrison in Idaho has my first climb because of the remoteness from other climbs, since I am unlikely to be bicycling through again. The downside is they don’t plow this road, they just wait for it to thaw out, and as of 2 days ago, no one had managed to make it past all the snow.

I set the alarm for 4:30 (there is a “dangerous heat warning” through Friday for this area) and woke up still feeling very beat up from the 1000 miles of motorcycling and my squished/cut up toe.  I decided to be optimistic that bicycling up a 9000 foot tall mountain would be a “recovery” ride.  I got my stuff together, rode to Albion, ID and unloaded at a gas station/convenience mart (side note: I wish I had stayed in Albion, it’s a nice little town and not as busy as the highway corridor.)

After spending a few miles along the valley floor, you reach the ski area turn off.

The ascent is gradual and mostly pastural and then becomes a bit more alpine-ish.
I saw my first snow around 7400 feet, and this was also where I started noticing that I like air. I spent the past two nights around 4500 feet, but I watched my maximum HR percentage (MHR) drift upward as the air got thinner.

Closing in on 8200 foot altitude, there was a 10 foot patch of snow I had to shuffle through – this is the first bike ride I had to kick snow out of my pedal cleats.

A bit further, you can see where you’re headed, then you ’round a bit switchback and.. a bit more snow.. but still passable.

Once more around a couple of switchbacks, and victory!

More motorcycling tomorrow, but definitely feel better with a bike ride and a major climb completed!

What Bicycle Is That?

Seems to be the top question people ask on the road!

Most people are surprised to hear this is a $300 generic carbon bicycle from China, with some vinyl stickers glued on for my trip.  The rims are also direct from China, but with name brand spokes & hubs.  I’ve put about 2000 miles on the frame/wheel combination, including a few punishing adventure rides (one where I discovered your bicycle will float away if you don’t keep a good hold onto it.)

Why this bike instead of my (substantially more than $300) sub-15 pound Parlee?

  1. Crazy low gearing (a low gear of of 30-42)
  2. Larger tires for comfort & bad (or entirely unpaved) road conditions
  3. Security of thru-axles for mounting to the motorcycle
  4. If I break it or it gets stolen, it’s $300! (of course the parts are a lot more than that, psychologically it is still comforting.)

Specifications

Frameset – Miracle Bikes FM286 Cyclocross frameset
Fork – TRP Carbon Fiber with eyelets (although I never had issues with the stock fork, it’s the one part of the bike I always worried about)
Wheels/Tires:  Light-bicycle RRU35C02 Rims (35 mm deep, 25 mm wide OD, 18 mm wide ID), DT Swiss 240S centerlock hubs + 160 mm Shimano Freeza rotors, 28 hole CX-Ray spokes.  Tires are currently Hutchinson Sector 700×32 Tubeless, although sadly they measure out to 30.4 mm, so not really great for serious dirt use.

gnargears

Shiny and new, lots more wear on it since!crabon-gnarmac

Drive train:
Shifters/Brakes: Road Shimano ST-RS685 Mechanical shifting/Hydraulic brakes
Crankset:  Mountain Shimano M985 XTR 44/30 (spacers all on the non-drive side)
Front Derailleur: FD-6800 Ultegra
Cassette: SRAM 10-42 XX1 Cassette
Rear Derailleur: Mountain Shimano XTR RD-M9000 11 speed + Tanpan travel agent to work with road shifters
KMC X11SL Chain

Misc:
Pedals:  XPEDO Mountain Titanium SPD compatible
Saddle: SMP Composit
Seatpost:  China knock-off of an Ergon
Bars: Easton SLX4 Carbon
Stem: 3T Team alloy

Total weight without bottles & bags:  18.7 pounds

Bags I am still experimenting with, the tail pack + front bag are 5 velcro straps to mess with every time I mount/dismount the bike, so I am experimenting with a quick release Ortlieb saddle bag.  Not as convenient as the front bag, but faster to attach/detach.